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How Oil Companies Can Mitigate Environmental Damage

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Jane Marsh's picture
Editor Environment.co

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

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  • Nov 3, 2022
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Despite the mindset of phasing out fossil fuels for renewable energy, humanity still relies upon oil. Reduction in usage will be a gradual process. In the meantime, using this fuel source as sustainably as possible is critical. Oil companies can implement measures to mitigate environmental damage during the transition to cleaner energies while considering every facet, including nonrenewable power production.

Prioritizing Prevention Over Production

Inadequate preventive maintenance is a common cause of oil leaks and pollution incidents. Equipment like pipelines, flow lines and gathering lines not prepared to bear the burden of exterior forces will harm the environment. Instilling a strict inspection program and property loss prevention plan should stop the damage and pinpoint the sources if they happen. This requires scheduling updates to the plans as environmental regulations in the oil industry become stricter.

Environmental harm isn’t only due to maintenance negligence. Oil companies should place equal priority on natural disaster preparation, such as hurricanes or tornadoes. For example, storm protection is critical to safeguard fiberglass saltwater tanks on fields from catching aflame, causing wildfires. 

Pipes can leak due to aging or poor installation. Regular reviews could stop long-term damage or excess methane release — especially if developing preventive maintenance is a recent initiative and records detailing names and sources of old equipment are lost to time. This involves all hands, as everyone from contractors to executives should be able to recognize faults in equipment. 

Preventive maintenance doesn’t just include inspections on the pipes themselves but continued monitoring of the pressure they receive from the various oil types going through them. Hydrostatic pressure testing or ultrasound technology could provide insight into invisible leaks and deterioration and prevent soil contamination. 

Optimizing Old Technologies

The oil industry is laden with old methodologies. However, it can advance into a more sustainable future by taking advantage of technology. It can begin by gathering analytics to optimize performance — this can be part of a prevention and maintenance plan to ensure continuous, stable production. 

Ultimately, this branches into Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) implementation. Finding ways to use sensors to measure, regulate and operate oil extraction could automate mechanisms in digital oilfields before they could damage the environment. Having gateways to connect data collection to the cloud will allow everyone in the oil industry to collaborate for global improvements.

Oil companies could also look into reimagining water usage. Recycling freshwater is possible, but the amount of water used during extraction is immense. This doesn’t even account for treatment processes, another operation expending energy and resources. 

There are also potential advancements in materials. Polypropylene pipes — or polypipes — are popular due to their flexibility and recyclability. They provide an alternative to regular PVC since they’re lighter in weight, expending fewer resources in transportation, and fewer chemicals are used to manufacture them. 

Embracing Renewable Energy

Though oil is inherently nonrenewable, it doesn’t mean renewable energies couldn’t be used in fields. Wind, solar and hydropower could power machines, mitigating some of the damage caused by the most influential oil spills in history.

BP and Equinor are leading the way in green oil through their number of eco-friendly patents, deals and sustainable energy jobs. However, there is nuance in these analytics since investments from these companies into green energies cannot be separated by intention. Some wonder if oil companies are doing it exclusively to reap tax benefits or if they actually intend to use renewables in the future.

Despite the gray areas, some oil companies, including ExxonMobil, are embracing the shift to greener energy sources by branching into the field of biofuels for commercial use. This provides a fresh perspective that companies should use and create renewables to power operations.

Oil Companies’ Responsibility to the Environment

Oil extraction damages the environment by default, but it doesn’t mean companies can’t take charge to minimize their harmful impact. A lack of care could affect soil quality for decades, deteriorate natural habitats and countless generations of aquatic life, and harm human health. Professionalism, prevention and awareness could stop some of the most catastrophic environmental events caused by the oil industry.

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